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01.

 

The Guilty Treatment

 

 

 He looks like a criminal, strong and tall, but his eyes tell a different story. They are full of fear as sweat trickles down his prominent cheeks, smearing the dirt that covers them. And more so, they are full of pain, the pain from losing his family. What he fears, is that everyone here believes he killed them.

 

 Ahndrew's wrists are shackled in front of him. The leather under the metal binders has rubbed his skin raw. The shackles are latched to a belt about his waist keeping him from shielding himself from the crowd outside. The collar is a bit looser, but is beginning to chaff his neck. It’s attached to a long rod allowing the executioners full control over his speed and direction. And with it, the executioners love reminding him of their control.

 

 They emerge from the cell house and head up the main street for Towlbene Square, so named for the town. On Marketeday, the wide street is lined with carts, booths, and stands providing all sorts of foods, items, and services for sale. But today's event has the street lined with the town's folk Ahndrew has lived with side-by-side for as long as he can remember.

 

 “Murderer!” someone shouts when Ahndrew is slapped across the face with a leather strop. It’s Cripstine, the hair-man, who had cut Ahndrew and his son’s hair once a month for near ten years. “Falsman!” screams Oltan the butcher, as he throws a pot of boiled fat at Ahndrew.

 

 Other slurs are shouted as rocks, eggs, mud, and all manner of muck are thrown at him. The majority of these items have no lasting effect on his well-defined frame, but he bleeds when he is cut by the few items that can.

 

His shirt hasn’t seen white since the day he purchased it from the tailor. It has been patched a couple of times by his wife, but it has no semblance of white anymore. His coveralls are covered in the same filth with an added dried crusting of blood covering most of it.

 

 The town’s residents enjoy these events too much. It fills them with a false sense of righteousness to mistreat someone in this manner without repercussion. Even in the end, if Ahndrew is judged as innocent, they will display no remorse for their behavior or treatment of him. Regardless, these actions leave scars. He once witnessed the judges rule a criminal as innocent. The crowd’s vitality faded to a disappointment. The man was forced to flee the town, ruined from the event.

 

 Ahndrew enters the square with as people throw loose hay at him. It sticks to the wet fat that has finally cooled to a bearable temperature. As he approaches the rickety wooden platform in the center of the square, he recognizes more familiar faces. One is of Willem, the baker.

 

 Willem is just one of the seven judges who are to decide if his sentencing stands. Ahndrew only sees the man he purchased bread from every other Starday. Their families often sat together in church and enjoyed each other’s company for numerous town events and celebrations. But today, Ahndrew isn’t sure any of that now matters. Willem's look of rebuke, the only exchange he is receiving from his friend, unsettles him even more.

 

 Ahndrew reaches the stairs leading up to the platform and begins to carefully navigate his way up. The executioners have other plans to continue their abuse, forcing him up the steps faster than he could manage, Ahndrew trips at the top. When he falls, the executioners pull on the rod, dragging him back down the steps to the clay and dirt ground.

 

 “Get up you wyrm-bred!” shouts an executioner as he whips Ahndrew.

 

 Ahndrew goes into coughing fits being choked by the collar on the way down. Tears pour from his eyes, struggling desperately to get to his feet. The sharp pain of the whips, and an inability to clear his eyes, Ahndrew focuses on anything he can just to make it up the steps a second time without falling.

 

 “Court-men, grab him.” commands Willem. The court-men reach him as he trips on the top step again. Before the executioners can drag him back down, one court-man places his knee on Ahndrew’s head, pressing his face into the wood floor of the stage and unlatches the rod. The other assists in picking him up and throwing him into the judge’s chair.

 

 There is nothing ornamental about this chair. It sits near the center of the platform, opposite the judges. The court-men bind each of Ahndrew’s limbs to a different part of the chair and the collar is latched to the back. Bound, he waits.

 

 After the court-men return to their posts, six of the seven judges proceed to sit behind a long table stretching to nearly each end of the platform. The centered judge, Gernant Ploomb, is a broad man, and like the other judges, he wears a simple, belted velvet brown robe. His robe, however, is adorned with a white and gold sash, signifying him to be the Primo Justice. He raises his hands and the crowd begins to quiet.

 

 “This trial is to determine the innocence of Ahndrew Effrant,” Gernant’s voice thunders with authority as his second chin trembles like a struck string, “for the murder of his wife, Anna Effrant, and the disappearance of his son, Elias Effrant, who is presumed dead. He has been sentenced to Grey Bird’s Pass should he not be found innocent.”

 

 Grey Bird’s Pass is the harshest sentence for any crime, and the only sentencing for murder. With the announcement, the crowd cheers.

 

 “Hammund Jorge will solicit until we are satisfied a reverse decision can not be made.”

 

 For a Judge’s Solicitor, Hammund is not a kind man. He is fitted in a dark leather tunic with a stiff high collar, more ready of a duel than a public interrogation. He paces about with a pair of leather gloves in hand. When Hammund Jorge is called in, the guilty are to stay guilty.

 

 “Why did you kill your wife?” he begins calmly.

 

 Ahndrew hangs his head to his chest to avoid the stare of Hammund. But Hammund simply turns to the court-men and waves a hand around his head. The court-men approach Ahndrew and wrap a strap around his forehead to secure his head to the back of the chair. Twenty-eight years ago this strap had come into use. Ahndrew had witnessed that trial. A judge complained he could not see the eyes of the murderer, so a strap was used to keep the head upright.

 

 So Ahndrew did the only thing he could do. He put on his bravest face, with tears and sweat still worming its way down to his cheeks, he answers, ”No.”

 

 “No!? You’re covered in the evidence of the night you killed her,” Hammund enlightens.

 

 Ahndrew hasn't bathed in days. The dirt and grime from the day they picked him up had crusted on his skin and clothes and is now layered with animal fat and prickly straw. His dark hair has become slick from the fat, and blood is still caught within it.

 

 He couldn’t hide it any longer. His eyes begin to show his fear again. His jaw trembles slightly. He makes every effort to be brave, but the town’s residence had stripped away so much of his courage already. What remains is thin.

 

 “Where’s your son? Elias?” Hammund presses. He approaches Ahndrew, casually, but deliberately.

 

 “I don’t know.” Ahndrew replies.

 

 “You do know. Because you killed him, like you did your wife. Did you think you could hide it all with the simple slaughtering of a horse? Were you going to burn them in the pit?” Hammund flares up, towering over Ahndrew.

 

 “No, the horse was old and weak—“

 

 “You’re weak! And pathetic,” booms Hammund. “Why did you kill them?”

 

 “I didn’t kill her… I didn’t kill he--” Ahndrew whimpers.

 

 “We found you… cradling her mauled body. What did you use!?” Hammund’s anger rose.

 

 Ahndrew squirms the little bit he can, moving his head back and forth. “No.” he squeaks, “I only want to protect him.”

 

 “But you can’t protect them from a creature like YOU!” Hammund had misheard the ‘him’ for ‘them.’ “We will dig the entire field you plowed that day. I’m sure we’ll find Elias’ body near the slaughtered horse, won’t we?” Hammund is losing his composure, but it is exactly why the crowd loves him.

 

 Of all the things Ahndrew could have told him, he realizes the truth could not be heard. He simply says, “No. I didn’t do any—“ as Hammund slaps him hard across the face with the gloves.

 

 

 

 

 

Up Next

 

The Horse Slaughter

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Story by

Chris Dempsey

 

Produced & Illustrated by

Marc Faulk

 

© Dark infinity 2017

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